Benefit plan deadlines extended again for states of emergency

As mentioned in our previous Publish, many benefit plan deadlines were extended by the DOL when it declared a national emergency due to COVID-19 in March 2020. By law, the national emergency continues until : (1) the emergency is not pursued by the president; (2) the President terminates it; or (3) a joint resolution of Congress terminates it. The National Emergency was recently continued by the President on March 1, 2022, which means that in the absence of continuation or early termination, the National Emergency will end on February 28.

As a reminder, the following deadlines have been extended by the declarations:

  • Extension of time to file, appeal or request an external review of a complaint.
  • Extended COBRA election period, COBRA payment due date, and COBRA deadlines for notifying the plan of a qualifying event or new disability.
  • Extended 30- or 60-day window to submit a HIPAA Special Listing Request.

The above extensions will end 60 days after the end of the national emergency or after an individual person has been eligible for specific assistance for a period of one year. Plan sponsors and administrators will need to ensure that these time extensions are respected for all members and former members. Additionally, COBRA-eligible individuals will need to be monitored to ensure that the one-year deadline is met.

In addition to the President’s national emergency declaration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) also declared a public health emergency in January 2020. A public health emergency can only exist in 90-day increments before needing to be extended. The current public health emergency was extended by HHS on July 15, 2022. This means that absent a further extension, the public health emergency will expire in mid-October 2022. However, HHS announced it would provide at least 60 days notice of the end of the public health emergency so plan sponsors can prepare.

As required by the public health emergency, plans: (i) must cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and related services at no cost to participants; (ii) must cover COVID-19 vaccines and boosters (including from out-of-network providers) at no cost to participants; and (ii) may offer stand-alone telehealth benefits to participants who are not enrolled in or eligible for the corresponding health plan.

When these emergency situations end, plan sponsors should be prepared to send communications to plan members regarding the end of extensions and to review their plan documents for any changes after the end of the period. These timelines and the plan requirements that go with them can be confusing.

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